SUSAN: Reads from her book: Pornography and Silence: Culture's Revenge Against Nature. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.
One is used to thinking of pornography as part of a larger movement toward sexual liberation. In the idea of the pornographic image we imagine a revolution against silence. We imagine that Eros will be set free first in the mind and then in the body by this revelation of a secret part of the human soul. And the pornographer comes to us, thus, through history, portrayed as not only a "libertine," a man who will brave injunctions and do as he would, but also a champion of political liberty. For within our idea of freedom of speech we would include freedom of speech about the whole life of the body and even the darkest parts of the mind.And yet, though in history the movement to restore Eros to our idea of human nature and the movement for political liberation are parts of the same vision, we must now make a distinction between the libertine's idea of liberty, "to do as one likes," and a vision of human "liberation." In the name of political freedom, we would not argue for the censorship of pornography. For political freedom itself belongs to human liberation, and is a necessary part of it. But if we are to move toward human liberation, we must begin to see that pornography and the small idea of "liberty" are opposed to that liberation.These pages will argue that pornography is an expression not of human erotic feeling and desire, and not of a love of life of the body, but of a fear of bodily knowledge, and a desire to silence Eros. This is a notion foreign to a mind trained in this culture. We have even been used to calling pornographic art "erotic." Yet in order to see our lives more clearly within this culture, we must question the meaning we give to certain words and phrases, and to the images we accept as part of the life of our minds. We must, for example, look again at the idea of "human" liberation. For when we do, we will see two histories of the meaning of this word, one which includes the lives of women, and even embodies itself in a struggle for female emancipation, and another, which opposes itself to women, and to "the other" (men and women of other "races," "the Jew"), and imagines that liberation means the mastery of these others.
KARLA: In your chapter on the Object you talk about the paradox, the contradiction, of wanting to dominate an object and that the pornographer has made the woman into an object and be wants to dominate her. And yet you don't need to dominate a table or a chair . . .
SUSAN: Yes, that's the giveaway. The pornographer absolutely believes in the inferiority of women. He believes in it so deeply that he doesn't even state the doctrine as a doctrine. He states it as a fact. He doesn't say I believe women are inferior, he simply says over and over again through gestures and statements that she is. There's no debate over this question.
However, he has another level of belief which you can read in pornography -- this subterranean, unconscious level of belief -- and this level of belief is the knowledge, the SURE knowledge that in fact, she's not an object. Because pornographers are like anybody else. People who read pornography are like anybody else -- they have to exist in this world, they know real women -- they have mothers, they have sisters, they're married, they have girlfriends, women friends, and' they know that women aren't objects. They know that we have intelligence, responses and spirits. And so,, his unquestioned assumption that she is an object is, really on another level of his mind, entirely questioned. In fact it's not believed. Because he knows it's not true.
And there's a conflict that goes on within him,
between his need, really -- he has a need to believe very
deeply that she's an object, because here threatened by
what she represents -- and on the other hand he knows
from his actual life that she's not an object. So he must
repress this other knowledge in this fantasy that he has.
But it comes out in the form of what is a metaphorical
struggle. In literary criticism you'd say that this is a
metaphorical struggle. You know in the Faerie Queen for
instance, when the here is fighting with the false
Duessa, everyone knows the false Duessa is a fantasy
image, of qualities in himself and this is a quest for
spiritual development. Well the pornographer has
forgotten this. He doesn't remember that this is his own
struggle. And in fact, he then shows an image of a
pornographic hero, who represents himself heating a
woman, beating her into submission, when in fact his own
portrait of the woman to begin with is that she is
submissive -- and that she's an object.
KARLA: So he's trying to beat himself into submission. He's trying to beat the other side of himself that the woman represents?
SUSAN: Yes, He's trying to beat his own knowledge into submission, but in fact, he knows that a woman is not an object. And then of course there's another level. There's something else he's trying to beat into submission.
He's not only trying to beat into submission the fact that he knows perfectly well that women have souls, but he's trying to repress within himself the knowledge that is in himself, that the woman represents.
This is tricky, but in fact, I don't think that truth is complex. But what is terribly complex is hypocrisy. And pornography is all about hypocrisy and delusion and lying to the self and denial. And therefore when you read pornography you .... until .you unravel what it's really saying, what you say has to be very complex. When you get to the bed rock of it, it's very simple. But the unraveling of it is very complex and it has to be, because it's a system of denial. And so it's like layers and layers of veils, and the other layer that is here underneath -- even that he is hiding from himself -- that a woman .... that he knows women are not objects, is the fact the woman as an object and the woman as not an object both, are really symbols for something in himself. And that is his own knowledge of the body.
KARLA: Let's go back then, to an earlier part of the book where you have a section where you talk about projection and denial.
SUSAN: Projection is a classic concept from psychological analysis, and one which I believe is still quite viable, despite my arguments with Freud. What it means simply is: that if I have a quality in myself that I cannot admit to for some reason, I project it onto another being, and I say to that being, you are like this. And there might be something in them that is evocative of that quality. They might even really have it, or they may not have it at all. But what is important to me, is that I deny that it exists.
Now I cannot, you see, totally deny it's existence because it beings around me, because it is in me. So every time I am, you know, myself -- this quality comes beck and is annoying. And so I can't deny it's existence. So what I do is, I say -- well it exists but it exists out there. It belongs to this other parson.
Now what is projected in Pornography is, what I call in the book, the knowledge of the body. And this is knowledge that is particularly resistant. It is above all, absolutely impossible to deny because we are physical creatures. And every time I breathe, every time I'm hungry, every time I feel a little sleepy, every time I have a sexual feeling of desire, I am reminded' that I have a body. Now if I want to deny that I am flesh, and that I am subject to the vulnerabilities of the flesh -- death, loss, just the simple unpleasant experiences like starvation or sever hunger or thirst -- if I want to deny. that this is a possibility, and not learn to accept somehow my physical nature -- I really have to project these qualities, these natural physical qualities onto somebody else. Because they're so present all the time. And in this culture .... this is a culture, I feel, in general, has made a decision and makes a decision for all of us at a very young age -- to deny the body.
I think we actually punish children out of their relationship with their bodies. There are certain parts of their bodies they're not allowed to touch. At an early age they're supposed to hide certain physical sensations. They learn to associate certain bodily functions like going to the bathroom, with shame, and sex with shame. And they're supposed to inhibit appetite, and these kinds of things. So we actually punish children out of knowledge of the body. And we reward that kind of cerebrality that is detached from physical knowledge. And I feel that the whole culture is a culture which makes this choice. And in our thinking, our philosophical thinking, we categorically separate mind and body and emotion and intellect.
So there is a very severe alienation from the self which is a very deep part of Western civilization, that's really gone on for at least the past two thousand, three thousand, even four thousand years. What happens then, is that this culture having made this decision early as a whole, had to present a scapegoat for the knowledge of the body because it's always present. So the culture chose symbols on which to project our knowledge of the body -chose them for all of us.
In American society, a primary metaphor is blackness -- black people, people of color, particularly black people, because of slavery and because of how long black people have been a part of the society, longer than most of us really. And Western civilization in general has chosen women.
KARLA: If we've chosen women for that, and if men project that as pornography, how do women deal with that split?
SUSAN: Well, women have to deal with that split as well as men, and in certain ways that split is more difficult for us. And in other ways we are less severely damaged.
I want to talk a little bit about why women are chosen as a symbol first, and then I can explain why women have the same problem, and why in different ways. I feel that women were chosen as the symbol very early, because in early childhood experience it is the mother who represents nature. Dinnerstein has written, I think, a very good book about this. I argue with certain parts of it, but basically I think it's a very courageous, incredible book.
I myself, in my own work, in my earlier work Women arid Nature, discovered this association, and in my own psychological work discovered that there was this association in myself. That in fact, when you are an infant, the whole problem of nature comes to you in the form of your mother. You don't have any conceptual ability, as an infant basically. You don't have language yet. Maybe that's too strict a statement, that you don't have any conceptual abilities. But you certainly don't have that kind of ability that is provided by language when it gives you Words for abstract categories. You essentially think in terms of experience, and the experience of death, for instance, you have an experience of death. You .... infants, usually don't perceive somebody dying usually, but they perceive loss, They experience their mother going and not coming back when they want her back, and they experience the fear that she may never come back. And that is really all the experience that we have as adults of death, except for the conceptual description of an event we really know very little else of. Also, infants experience death in another way, in the sense that they experience death in a fear of Starvation, experience cold, loneliness .... So within their own bodies they have all that we, in fact, think of as death. In fact, we might be quite wrong about what death is. All we have is that infantile fear. We really don't know what that experience is. It's really a closed door as far as our perceptual abilities are concerned.
So all of those difficult experiences, along with all those experiences that are very pleasurable -- pleasurable physically to satisfy: a need to be comfortable physically and emotionally, to have that, I think, very sexual skin to skin contact between a mother and an infant -- these are all associated with the mother too. But there's a possibility for a very strong ambivalence. I happen to be a mystic you see, and I think that the natural conditions -that are given us and that we can grow with them -- that's what we're supposed to do with them. And therefore a human being can take a situation of ambivalence and understand it finally as something that exists within herself, or himself. And cease to project everything nasty onto the mother and to decide that everything good is in oneself and realize that death is part of life. And this is something that can be taught by a culture. There are certain ways in which certain Amerlndian tribes (not all of them, but many of them) had ritualistic ways of imparting this wisdom to their young. We impart exactly the opposite to our young. We teach our young not to face that dilemma. And we deny it through a system of separating body and mind, and separating all that is feared of the power of nature and projecting that onto women. And to creating a fantasy of superhuman power -- that is, power over our human bodies and power over the human condition, and the mind.
KARLA: Okay, so what do women do with that then?
SUSAN: One of the things that women do, is that we learn to hate our own bodies. The culture produces images of hatred of the human body because of this profound ambivalence and this projection. So we learn to hate those bodies and particularly what we hate is any idea of power in those bodies muscular women. We're not supposed to be muscular. Women are not supposed to be physically large. Kim Chernin has written a book called The Obsession: The Tyranny of Slenderness which essentially describes the same psychological reaction and acculturation in women. And that the form that it comes out in is obsessive dieting and obsession with body image. But what's important here is some understanding here, not of Kim's book, but of mine, and this might apply to Kim's book too.
Many feminists have, I think, an automatic reaction to any kind of a psychological interpretation. And they believe that if you're rendering a psychological interpretation, that you're not in fact denying acculturation, socialization, political power systems. But in fact, what both of us is saying in our books is much more delicate than that. That in fact, cultural and psychological and social, political manipulation becomes much more powerful when it can play on a psychological dilemma. And in fact the existence of a psychological dilemma does not in any way make it inevitable that one has to play out that crisis.
In once sense I feel that' my book is a one-woman argument against determinism. The pornographers are very deterministic. They feel, well this is the way people are and we're just giving them what they need. But in fact that's not at all true. The culture is a human creation and we can make choices in what kind of culture we create, and culture has a profound effect on behavior. So what I feel in fact -- that a natural psychological dilemma, which would be moved through and solved and become in fact wisdom -- is made worse over the years until it actually shapes very damaging very destructive behavior.
KARLA: There's a part in your book where you talk about Christianity or Christ Himself as the origin of the torture of the body. Would you read that section?
SUSAN: In our imaginations, by which we tell the story of our own culture, we might, as others have done before, name the story of Jesus Christ as the origin of culture's torture of the body. All the elements of sadomasochistic ritual are present in the crucifixion of Christ. And the Christian religion itself labors to deny the body. "Imitatio Christi" means to be selfless, to be virgin, to renounce sensual pleasure. The early church father labored to prove that Christ's birth did not eventuate from earthly coitus, and one scholar of the Gnostic tradition even argued that Christ was not Born of Mary but materialized fully formed, so that the son of God would not be supposed to have been made up of flesh.
And yet Christianity did not originate these attitudes toward the body. Rather, the Christian tradition, and the story of Christ's death, became a perfect vessel to contain the mind's image of itself as free from the body. The cross on which Jesus is crucified again and again in culture's imagination bears this meaning. For a cross represents a crossroads, and a choice. Let us imagine that one arm of this cross goes in the direction of culture, and its image of itself as free from nature, while the other arm of the cross stands for the body and for nature, and all the meaning nature yields us.
Within the story of Christ we find another tradition, in which culture and nature are not opposed, in which there is not a crucifixion but a transformation, in which matter has meaning and flesh has spirit. In this version of the story of Christ, be was not the son of God, but a son of God among many daughters and sons of goddesses and gods, who was divine simply because he admitted his own divinity into his idea of himself. And that he knew himself to have spirit within his body was the blasphemy for which Christ was crucified. For if he had denied his own divinity, he would have gone free from the sentence of death.
But the mythological presence of Christ which culture worships today, the emblem which we are asked to kneel before, and which has become our culture's image of "man," is Christ crucified on the cross -- the spirit in the body sentenced to death. It is this death, a death promised to deliver us from the original sin of knowing flesh, that we are asked to imitate.
KARLA: It seems to me, that the image of the crucifixion is a basically sadomasochistic one, and you equate S/M with pornography. Could you talk about what you mean by that?
SUSAN: Yes I do want to say that that's very true, by the way. That in fact, when you read pornographic literature, you find crucifixion all through -- in The Story of O, in the Marquis de Sade, it's just all over in fact. What I mean when I say that all pornography is S/M is not that all pornography has chains and spikes and whips, but that the psychological structures of S/M is really what pornography is all about. If you read W.S. works on S/M you find that he renders a very workable definition. I haven't found a modern psychologist that has been able to change this very workable definition. There need not be pain transpiring between the two people. The essential element is control and humiliation. One must be in control of the other, and own must humiliate the other in this culture to have power over another is a form of humiliation also objectification is a form of humiliation.
So that, say you have a magazine that has at least apparent S/M images like say Playboy, and say here this isn't S/M -- it's just a woman with her clothes off. We really know it's not, because I have plenty of photographs right here on this book shelf, ones taken by Imogen Cummingham. Beautiful photographs of young women's bodies and they are not pornographic, and they are not S/M. And there's a difference, there's an extraordinary difference, and it's not simply that more pubic hair is showing or that more of the body is shown, but it is in fact through many, many details of the photography. Through many, many graphic clues we are being told by that photograph that this woman is being shamed and humiliated. And that she's being made -- interesting term -- now listen to this language -- she's being made an ass of. Because in this pornographic mind, to show the ass to have anything to do with the body is an humiliation.
The pornographic idea of pleasure and sex is just a thin, thin veneer. It's so thin that sometimes you don't even see it when you read pornography. In fact, it amounts to a justification that pornographers use when people object to what they're doing. They say: well, we're just celebrating the body. In fact when you read pornography you find very few descriptions of actual physical sex and those descriptions which exist are not at all evocative. And it goes beyond the simple fact of well, they are not simply able to write well. Madison Avenue is filled with language which is sensuously evocative, pornography is not.
They use words which are in fact the opposite of evocative. They're turn-offs. Instead of orgasm, a man will say I felt my gizzum coming. That is an intentionally ugly work meant to revolt you. In fact that is the attitude that the pornographer has -- he's revolted. He's going through feelings of profound conflict with physical sensation. That this value system, this hatred of the flesh runs throughout pornography -- and by the way it's not simply in the attitudes towards women -- if you read Hustler magazine for instance, there are continual body jokes that are repulsive because the hatred of the body is a major theme of pornography.
And what happens is that when you have this girl with her clothes off -- and I say girl because in fact pornography chooses a woman who looks girlish, who looks like she is not a full woman even though she has a full body -- the expression on her face is like the girl next door. Hefner actually goes and looks for this kind of woman. He wants her to look virginal, he wants her to look like she doesn't know much about sex. And right there she becomes a ridiculous figure. There's this body radiating sexuality and she's so dumb she doesn't know what she has. She's the classic dumb blonde, that's a kind of shaming in this society.
Secondly, pornography has, in fact, the same old church morality. Throughout pornography you find the good old virgin and whore, and the pornographer takes great delight in raping the virgin and making her the whore and he's very fast to call her a slut after he's done that. And he's very fast also to find virgin purity attractive. These are the classic categories of Christianity that come from the hatred of the flesh.
Therefore in the pornographers mind, even in his own mind, for the woman to take her clothes off is a shaming. By the way I don't need to make this long argument for this because I can show you dozens of passages from works of pornography which are considered classics of the form, in that they are examples, paradigms of the form, in which the male character actually gloats over the shaming of the woman. And in fact again, you find very little description of her body. The hero in one of the books, a Victorian book called A Man With A Maid he does this -- he finally gets the clothes off her, this woman he is supposedly attracted to, and what follows in not a rapturous description of how lovely her body is, but what follows is a rapturous description of how lovely it is to see her ashamed.
KARLA: One of the other ways you say the pornographer is tied to the Church is his obsessive rebellion . . .
SUSAN: Yes, the Marquis de Sade is a great example of that. In fact he actually kidnapped a woman, or hired her for normal prostitution and did things like: tried to force her to defecate on the cross, and played her confessor and asked her to confess to him. What I say about somebody like the Marquis de Sade who, throughout his writing (which is often mistaken for revolutionary by male radicals) is that he does take a stance of extreme criticism towards the Church. But this is not a revolutionary anger in the sense that revolution would mean a real change, but it is rebellious in the sense that a rebellion is simply the reverse, a sort of a turning the coin over (and dependent on, extremely dependent on, whatever it is rebelling against. And therefore it's never a fundamental change, it's never a radical change. But it's the same old thing and what you find in de Sade for instance, is that he takes lock, stock and barrel the culture's hatred of the female flesh. He says even the flesh of female animals is probably inferior to the flesh of male animals.
He also said that he could not be both a lover of a woman and her friend, and that therefore he chose women for friends who were ugly. In his eyes, I suppose, I don't know what could be attractive, but a woman he could not he attracted to. Because he could not have any sort of spiritual feeling for a woman or emotional feeling for her if he was attracted to her which to me means simply that he was profoundly split between his spirit and his flesh. And therefore he accepted his father's feelings and the Church values which he was rebelling against.
KARLA: You also talk quite a bit about the death of feeling and I would like you to read a section on the Death of the Heart's but maybe you could talk first about what that means.
SUSAN: You know there's no way having physical feeling without emotion. Almost everyone who works clinically as a therapist has this knowledge; and will at times refer a patient to do body work and much clinical work has body work tied up with it. It was not only Reich who knew there was a mind body link, but Freud's original discoveries were made because of this understanding. He worked with women who were called hysterical because they had physical symptoms that were not, in fact, physically based; which were emotionally caused. And when he worked at their memories with them and they were healed of the bottled up emotions they had, then their physical .symptoms such as paralysis disappeared.
So what happens is that the pornographer wishes to separate his emotions from his body. He's tried to throw out the baby with the bathwater. He tried to throw out the bathwater, but he's ended up throwing out the baby too. He's tried to get rid of his emotion, he tries to deny it. He doesn't want to deal with feelings of separation. Loss and love automatically entails that.
The minute -- for those of us who are honest with ourselves -- the minute we fall in love with somebody, the minute we have strong feelings for somebody, the thought of possibly losing them occurs at the same time. And the pornographer, and the person with a pornographic mind -- which is all of us at some point in our lives -- does not want to admit to this possibility; does not want to admit to vulnerability. We want to think that nothing can touch us; that we're superhuman. Even that word, you know "superhuman," that's a physical word; because being touched physically is being reminded of our vulnerability.
So the pornographer has to work on many fronts to destroy this emotion. On one front he projects it onto a woman and denies that it is part of him. But of course it still is part of him, so that on the other front he has to continuously construct a self image of callousness. And he does not want to be reminded of tenderness or emotion anywhere. He wants every image of that blotted out. It's like the father who has decided that his daughter who's dead or his son is dead, and therefore you can't mention the name of this child in the household. Because the child is not dead, because mentioning his name will bring back his feeling. In the world of pornography you can not invoke feeling because this is what exactly and precisely what the pornographer is terrified of -- his own emotion. We know the heart to be the center. The place where body and soul meet, where reason gives way to passion. And the trembling of desire we feel in our bodies, which comes from the heart, is also the spirit's trembling. In this trembling, the body expresses the soul, and perhaps it is this trembling that tells us the body is captured and ruled by the spirit's longing.
But where is this heart in the pornographer's vision of ourselves? The heart is here, but she is held captive. We find this shape of the red valentine, for instance, depicted on the cover of a pornographic magazine for February, the month of Valentine's Day. Before a glistening red background, a woman in a glossy photograph kneels before us. She wears red glasses in the shape of hearts. And she is in chains. But this is the task of pornography -- to chain and imprison the heart, to silence feeling.
To watch Agamemnon send his daughter to death is almost unbearable. We are outraged. We hope. With Clytemnestra, we pray and plead for her life. And when she dies we weep, as if one we loved, or a part of ourselves, were lost. But one never weeps as a witness to pornography. No death in pornography touches us with sorrow. Justine's suffering fails to move us. We cannot imagine loving Justine, and we let her die with no protest, because as we enter the mind of the Marquis de Sade, our own hearts are silenced.
All death in pornography is really only the death of the heart. Over and over again, that part of our beings which can feel both in body and mind is ritually murdered. We make a mistake, therefore, when we believe that pornography exceeds the boundaries of both fantasy and record and becomes itself an act. Pornography is sadism.
This sadism has many forms. A woman who enters a neighborhood where pornographic images of the female body are displayed, for instance, is immediately shamed. Once entering the arena of pornography, she herself becomes a pornographic image. It is her body that is displayed. And if she is interested in pornography, this interest becomes the subject of pornographic speculation. If she is shocked and turns away from the pornographic image in disgust, she becomes the pornographic "victim." She cannot escape pornography without humiliation. And we know humiliation to be the essence of sadism. It is thus that pornography exists as an act of sadism toward all women.
But now let us add to this that there is nowhere' in culture where a woman can evade pornography. She cannot have come to age without seeing at least one of these images. And, we know, when images enter the mind, they remain there forever as memory.
KARLA: Now before we run out of time -- This may be a large leap, but I do want to talk about catharsis. Both the pornographer and the sadomasochist claim that their fantasies are a form of catharsis. You say that it's not a catharsis, that it is an attempt to defend an illusion. I would like you to read a short section on catharsis.
SUSAN: You know in fact that isn't a large leap, because images do remain there in memory. And when we speak of catharsis in relation to cultural images we have to remember that. And then we have to make decisions about which images we would like to remain in our minds. I am a Buddhist. Also I do think those ideas are profound, and one of these is that you are what you see. In fact, one of the understandings anyone who meditates begins to have is we are what is in our minds. There's no difference in who we are and what our experience of life is -- what our life is, is what is going on in our mind. So again I'm bringing up this question of choice. What do we choose to have in our minds. These images don't leave us. What the pornographer calls catharsis is not at all catharsis. Rather, it is an attempt to defend a belief in illusion. The pornographer's argument is really his illness arguing for its own continued existence. This defense is what 'a healer of the mind might call resistance. The mind at war with itself wants to be healed, but still clings to the old damaged Way of being. And underneath resistance One always finds a reversal of the truth, another story, a hidden feeling, or a hidden experience. Resistance is the attempt to deny knowledge of the self. But this is why a real catharsis heals us. For a real catharsis takes place beyond resistance, and can only be experienced past resistance. It is that state of mind where illusion and defense have broken, and true feeling lives again.
A patient of Freud has fits of choking. Another has a morbid fear of snakes and her arms suffer a paralysis which is not of the body. Another woman suffers attacks of dizziness and fears heights. A man has a morbid fear of wolves. A young woman will not eat or drink. Whet makes each of them well is her or his own memory, and inside that memory, the experience of feeling. The death of a friend who was never mourned is now lamented; a father who died and was hated is now hated openly; a daughter remembers her mother forcing her to eat food two hours old. Feelings which could not be owned, recognized, or named are now lived through in consciousness, confronted, accepted, and thus they cease to distort body and mind.
The mere experience of choking or dizziness or fear or paralysis did not heal illness. These symptoms by themselves were only part of an illness. As symbols, they contained a meaning which might heal. But as symptoms they worked to hide knowledge. In each case, the meanings of them. symptoms and feelings they contained had to be acknowledged, and owned and experienced. For such knowledge is what heals the mind.
SUSAN: What I'm saying there, is essentially that pornography is a symptom. It is not the honest release of hidden truth. It is what exists to hide the truth.
KARLA: Angela Carter is another person who has written on pornography. She says that pornography only creates a desire, it never gives satisfaction. That ties into what you're saying too. That it is not a catharsis. It doesn't release anything, it just creates more.
SUSAN: The Marquis de Sade says that too. He spoke of what amounted to an addiction. And a man named, I believe, Michael Perkins, wrote a book called The Secret Record about porn. He admires pornography, but he himself also said that he felt pornography was addictive. It's almost a commonplace among the connoisseurs of pornography that it is addictive. In fact, that's why the industry makes so much money. And there's a simple explanation for why it's addictive. Because it's delusory.
It's similar to the pattern of sugar in the body. Those of us who have become a little mere sophisticated about nutrition realize that eating more than a very small amount of sugar creates a desire for more food. Because when you eat sugar it actually causes the blood sugar to drop, and therefore you want more sugar. It's empty calories. It never satisfies the nutritional needs so you keep eating more and more of something that is empty. This is exactly what happens to pornography psychology. It's a delusion so it never can heal the wound.
And moreover, I can explain psychologically why the need gets greater and greater. Say a man buys a copy of Playboy to masturbate with. Because he wants to retain the illusion that he is superhuman -- he has superhuman power over his own body and his own feeling -- therefore the woman who represents this power, is, in the first place, a tiny little body on a page, who has none of the human attributes of courage, or spirituality. Which implies, by the way, independence. And she is shamed and humiliated, so he feels a great deal more powerful over her. And he can feel safe allowing himself to feel. But he always loses because if he actually has an orgasm he has lost his control. He has been overpowered by his own feeling. So therefore, he still has to be afraid. And the next time he needs an image, she has to he chained,' and then maybe the next time, beaten, and then finally he develops a taste for what are called snuff films. He wants to see a woman being murdered in fiction, then he wants to feel she is really being murdered. Then maybe this man has to go into what I call three dimensional pornography. Which is, he goes to a prostitute and he has to humiliate her in some way, and then he has to have some S/M activity with her.
And if the man is sufficiently disturbed -- obviously we know that everyone who reads pornography doesn't go out and rape or murder -- but if he has a sufficient wound or damage in himself, and he tries to heal this wound with the empty answer of pornography that wound is going to get worse and worse. He's going to, for one thing, feel more and more afraid of that feeling inside of him, because he will have the experience of continually being unable to do anything about it, even if employs chains, if he employs whips, he employs humiliation, and still it overpowers him. So his fear is going to become enormous. This is a very dangerous situation. In the disturbed person, he's going to act out violently. It's predictable.
KARLA: Let's talk for a minute about the difference between orgasm, which is a joining -- an ecstasy -- a spiritual union with another person, and with the world, through and with that other person; versus ejaculation.
SUSAN: That's a lovely distinction. I hadn't thought of that. It really is. I think, in fact, even with ejaculation there is an orgasm but it's hidden. It's not allowed to become conscious and the truth is that unconscious knowledge always wants to become conscious, there must always be a feeling of frustration in ejaculation. Something is missing, something is lost. And there's always that feeling expressed in pornography that you're not giving to me -- what is that crude word, "put out," -- you're not putting out. That's an obsession with the pornographer. With the woman she's always afraid of sex, or you know reasons are given fictionally, but in essence the man is feeling frustrated and he's not getting enough, and this is what he's not getting -- he's merely ejaculating. He's not allowing himself, his consciousness, the full range of his being.
KARLA: It seems to me, that what's happening is that in our attempt at sexual liberation -- the women who have joined that movement -- have somehow bought some of this imagery from pornography. And I guess what I want to get to is fantasy. That fantasy cuts you off from that union. The minute you bring fantasy to a relationship with another person, you've closed the door on both of you. You're no longer there with that other person, you're there with the fantasy. And that leads me to what some women have posited -- that romantic fiction, the romantic novel, is a woman's form of pornography.
SUSAN: Yes, I think that's true. I do believe that fantasy prevents that other feeling of orgasm. It prevents you from being with ourselves during orgasm and of course it also prevents you from experiencing a feeling of union with another being. And that's by the way, one of the reasons that fantasy exists. Because one is afraid of union with another beings the ego is lost and that is the joy of an orgasm, that you do' lose yourself.
And women -- we have a complex number of reasons to want to avoid that union. One of the reasons is the same as the man's psychologically and it's primal. Not in a socially evolved state, but in its primal states and that's the fear of ego loss which is everybody's resistance to falling in love. But the other reason is more complicated, and it is brought about through acculturation. And that is that many women are relating to a man who has a pornographic mind, and he sees her as an abject. And whet he calls love is actually a kind of hatred, and an abuse of her, and a refused to see her as a human being. Therefore, if she is to really be with him this is what she has to deal with. She has to start with where he is, and this is very painful.
Many women who don't want to recognize this, understandably, have a great deal of S/M in them. It's emotional S/M; it's not physical. But the hero is often very, very cold and psychologically cruel, and it's only at the end you see that he gives in and that he's all of a sudden loving. Well there is a very unrealistic transformation of a personality with no kind of self knowledge intervening, no explanation why this man is suddenly transformed. I think that clearly what is going on in the romance novel is that the woman somehow has to integrate the knowledge of how cruel her relationship is with this man; so she integrates it. But she ends with this fantasy that finally he does come and loves her. But it is missing the real link which would be a transformation, a real human transformation. And by the ways that would include her own transformation because she would have to transform into somebody who stands up for herself and refuses to be objectified and faces reality.
KARLA: In closing I would like you to read one more part from the book, and that's the opening of you chapter on silence.
SUSAN: Our silence. The silence and the silencing of women. The creation of authority in the image of the male. Of god in the image of the male. Rape. The burning of witches. Wife-beating. Laws against women speaking in public places. Against women preaching. The imprisonment of suffragists. Force-feeding. Harassment on the public streets. Scorn for the women who dares to act like man. A woman's love for another woman, unspoken, hidden. Our invisibility in history. The manuscripts of Sappho burned, the writing of women never published, lives of genius spent obscurely, or in domestic labor and child-rearing; the life of the mother, of the housekeeper, unimagined and unrecognized. Woman's word pronounced full of gile. A woman's testimony held suspect in court.
These several centuries of the silencing of women are a palpable presence in our lives -- the silence we have inherited has become part of us. It covers the space in which we live; it is a blank screen, and onto this screen a fantasy which does not belong to women is projected; the silence of women the very surface on which pornography is played. We become other than ourselves.
And the story does not end with this forced silencing. Just as silence leave off, the lie begins. This lie is not only the lie the pornographer tells, but the lie a woman begins to believe about herself, or even if she does not believe it, the lie a woman tries to mimic. For since all the structures of power in her life, and all the voices of authority -- the church, the state, society, most likely even her own mother and father -- reflect pornography's fantasy, if she feels in herself a being who contradicts this fantasy, she begins to believe she herself is wrong. Wordlessly, even as a small girl, she begins to try to mold herself to fit society's image of what a woman ought to be. And that part of her which contradicts this pornographic image of womanhood is cast back into silence.
Copyright © Susan Griffin 1981, Karla Tonella 1981 All rights reserved.